Scattered Breath: The Red Thread
A Visual Family Narrative
On view June 19 – 28, 2019
The Dr. Bernard Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York presents "Scattered Breath: The Red Thread." This exhibition explores South African artist Jennifer Kopping's Jewish diasporic narrative of two branches of her family, separated by the devastation of the Holocaust. Beginning in the small villages of Belarus and scattered to two corners of the globe, South Africa and the United States, this panoramic narrative unites the two families in a visual and mythical feast of diaspora and hybrid hauntings of place and conflated time. Jennifer Kopping depicts her family's story using photographs from family archives and expresses them in mixed media, using collage, oil painting, embroidery, and papercut.
“My identity as a white South African-born African-Jewish-female-with-Polish-Lithuanian-German heritage, reads as for most people in a globalized world as a hyphenated hybrid identity," Kopping said. "This led me to search the source of that identity and the many narratives it carries."
She continues: "The context and motivation for this exhibition is thus precipitated by family narratives and worlds long past. For as long as I can remember my father would recall his childhood in Poland in the little town of Lubcha on the Nioman River, or visits on horse drawn carts to his grandmother and cousins in Ivie, in what is now Belarus. Stories passed on to me so vividly that spoke of a life of a large extended family; grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and of community and belonging.
But, those stories also spoke so powerfully of tragic loss and dispersal. Thus I have embedded in my mind an imaginative, empathic, and nostalgic concept and curiosity of what that lost world was; of a mythical Judaic past that was so violently disrupted and the ultimate diasporic journeys it triggered.
Thus, this exhibition reveals a visual mapping of my family’s diasporic journey. I create Judaic diasporic specters of memory and imagination in the form of what I term narrative vignettes; small haunting paintings, collages, and embroidered scenes. I make use of architectural, linguistic, botanical, and textile patterning as visual and symbolic clues in the vignettes.
My love for a variety of media is evident in the rich, multi-layered, and dense surfaces of the artworks, where collage, papercutting, embossed metal, painting, embroidery, and drawing form an imaginative colorful diasporic narrative tapestry of imagery that is a celebration of life, adaptation, and survival.
The convergence of media, imagery, and concepts span across place and time. The South African cultural and geographic context, the Polish life and shtetls, the Shoah, and the geographical context of America, specifically New York, merge to form almost magic realist entanglements that conflate time and place. Echoes of history as palimpsests of time are reflected in the works.
This exhibition is especially poignant to me as it not only pays homage to a very special past and its brave characters, but also connects the familial diasporic link between family members in South Africa and America.”
Kopping is a practicing South African artist, craft designer, and an art and design educator. She has exhibited extensively and has works in various corporate and private collections, including Telkom, UNISA, Absa, and Liberty Life. She holds a Master’s degree in Fine Art from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. She has presented workshops on various craft media and has undertaken numerous mosaic projects for the design industry. She has also presented academic papers both locally and internationally. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Africa, where her work explores her diasporic family narrative. With interests in the mapping of cultural and diasporic journeys, both personal and universal, maps form an important part of her oeuvre.
Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Heller Museum Director, stated, “Jennifer Kopping’s exhibition illuminates the trajectory of 20th century Jewish experience through the narrative of one family dispersed by circumstances to the opposite ends of the earth. Her works exemplify the Heller Museum’s mission of showcasing the creativity of contemporary artists inspired by Jewish history and values. Her art demonstrates the importance of the visual arts in transmitting memory to new generations.”
There will be an opening reception on Wednesday, June 19 from 5:30-7:00 PM.